Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) isn’t just an adult condition. Children and adolescents who experience or witness traumatic events can also develop PTSD, particularly those who have experienced combat or severe trauma. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for PTSD in young people is crucial for parents, educators, and healthcare providers.

This blog post aims to shed light on childhood PTSD, providing essential information for parents, caregivers, and mental health professionals.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. This could include natural disasters, serious accidents, terrorist acts, war/combat, rape, or other violent personal assaults. For children and adolescents, trauma might also stem from bullying, abuse, or the sudden loss of a loved one.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD in Children and Adolescents

Children and adolescents may experience PTSD differently than adults. While adults may express themselves more verbally, children might exhibit symptoms of PTSD differently from those in adults and can vary significantly based on age.

In Young Children (ages 6 and younger):

  • Re-enactment through play: Children might repeatedly play out the trauma in their games.
  • Nightmares or sleep disturbances: While these nightmares might not specifically re-enact the traumatic event, they can be scary and disruptive.
  • Regressive behaviors: This includes a return to behaviors such as bedwetting, thumb-sucking, or clinging to caregivers.
  • Separation anxiety: An increased fear of being away from parents or caregivers.

In School-Aged Children (ages 7-11):

  • Avoidance: Avoiding places, people, or activities that are reminders of the trauma.
  • Hyperarousal: This might manifest as difficulty concentrating, irritability, or increased vigilance.
  • Emotional numbness: Feeling detached or having trouble experiencing positive emotions.
  • Problems in school: Difficulty with attention, declining grades, or behavior problems.

In Adolescents (ages 12-18):

  • Re-experiencing the trauma: This can include flashbacks, intrusive memories, and nightmares.
  • Avoidance and numbing: Avoiding reminders of the trauma, feeling detached from others, and losing interest in activities.
  • Hyperarousal: Including being easily startled, feeling tense, having difficulty sleeping, and outbursts of anger.
  • Negative changes in thoughts and mood: This includes ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., “No one can be trusted”), persistent negative emotions, and feelings of guilt or shame.

Risk Factors and Causes

Not every child or adolescent exposed to a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Risk factors that might increase the likelihood include:

  • Severity and proximity to the trauma: The closer and more severe the trauma, the higher the risk.
  • Previous traumatic experiences: Having a history of trauma can increase susceptibility.
  • Pre-existing mental health conditions: Children with prior mental health issues may be more vulnerable.
  • Lack of support: A lack of strong social support from family and friends can exacerbate the impact of trauma.


Diagnosis of PTSD in children and adolescents typically involves a comprehensive assessment by a mental health professional. This can include clinical interviews with the child and parents, standardized questionnaires, and sometimes observational assessments.

Treatment Options

Effective treatment of PTSD in children and adolescents often involves a combination of therapies tailored to the child’s age, symptoms, and needs.

  1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This is one of the most effective treatments for PTSD. Trauma-focused CBT helps children process the trauma and develop coping strategies to manage their symptoms.
  2. Play Therapy: Particularly effective for younger children, play therapy allows them to express their experiences and feelings through play, which can be less intimidating than verbal expression.
  3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a therapeutic approach that helps individuals process and integrate traumatic memories by using guided eye movements.
  4. Medication: While not typically the first line of treatment, medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be used in conjunction with therapy to manage severe symptoms.
  5. Family Therapy: Involving the family in therapy can help address the impact of trauma on family dynamics and improve communication and support within the family unit.
  6. Support Groups: Peer support groups can provide a sense of community and shared understanding, which can be very healing.

Supporting a Child with PTSD

If you suspect a child is suffering from PTSD, it’s important to seek professional help as early as possible. Here are some ways to support a child with PTSD:

  • Listen and validate their feelings: Let the child know that it’s okay to talk about what happened and that their feelings are valid.
  • Maintain routines: Keeping a regular schedule can provide a sense of stability and security.
  • Be patient: Recovery from trauma can be a long process. Be patient and provide consistent support.
  • Encourage but don’t force: Encourage the child to engage in activities they enjoy, but don’t force them to talk about the trauma if they’re not ready.


PTSD in children and adolescents is a serious condition that can have long-term effects on their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. However, with proper treatment and support, young people can recover and lead healthy, fulfilling lives. If you suspect a child you know is suffering from PTSD, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Early intervention can make a significant difference in their recovery journey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *